Japan’s Yamaha Motor may be best known for its sports motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, but the company has started promoting the use of another of its product lines in Australia, New Zealand and the USA: remotely-piloted helicopters for crop spraying.
This activity is well established for pest and disease control in rice crops in Japan, where Yamaha says more than 2,500 of its aircraft spray an estimated 42% of the nation’s rice paddy fields.
Yamaha’s first unmanned helicopter for spraying crop-protection chemicals was released in 1989 and 2 models are available today, equipped with liquid or granule application systems.
The 246cc RMax has a practical payload of 16kg in 2 quick-change saddle tanks, while the newer Fazer R, which has a 27hp 390cc motor, carries 32-litres and can typically treat 1ha (2.47 acres) per flight.
The Fazer R recently gained Turn Assistance as standard, which uses satellite guidance and a gyroscope to automate end-of-pass turns when activated by the operator flicking the spray on-off switch on the remote control transmitter.
This new feature is designed to ensure evenly spaced passes and a consistent flying speed without relying on the pilot’s flying skills.
Outside Japan, Yamaha Motor is developing a crop treatment service that could lead to commercial operators buying and operating the small-scale aircraft.
At present, the federal aviation authority in the USA permits Yamaha alone to operate a spraying helicopter ‘drone’ for research and to trial commercial services.
While full-size fixed wing and rotorcraft are a familiar site spraying corn, rice and other crops in the US, Yamaha Precision Agriculture is confident small-scale helicopters have a role to play in certain circumstances.
Those could include field areas denied to manned aircraft because of power lines or adjoining sensitive crops, or narrow-spaced vines, often grown on hillsides, such as in California and the Pacific north-west that can only be treated on foot using backpack sprayers to control powdery mildew.